In the middle of one of his poems, an invocation around the archaic torso of Apollo, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke suddenly pauses and writes, ‘You must change your life’.
I never get beyond that line in the poem, it has such command and immediate reproach.
Last night Una had an oesophagheal spasm and I sat up with her waiting for the Isorbel under her tongue to take effect and ease the crushing pains in her chest. She spoke of her fears around my changing so much this year, stepping out of character, the new distance between us. All I could see was the damage I have caused her over so many years and all that I would not have done if I had been sober. There are no amends to be made except to stay sober and not make any more of those kinds of mistakes. My inexcusable cruelty and unkindness that has destroyed so much of her faith in herself and others, a friend who was there and never really present or honest or prepared to care for her. All I did was take and take and take — and then forget what had been taken.
And inexplicably she has forgiven me so much. As have others. I feel such bitter regret mixed with gratitude. These are some of the hardest and most rewarding moments of recovery.
But there is also the fear Una and others have at seeing me change, their wanting me to stay the same, to need them in unhealthy ways and to not grow. This is a separate issue and I need to address it differently.
Alcoholism just isn’t understood despite all the literature and popular wisdom on the topic, and the mysterious process of recovery baffles those outside AA. When somebody loved goes into recovery, friends and family feel excluded. The approval Una initially felt at my not touching alcohol, the novelty of it, has worn off. She now takes it for granted that I don’t drink. She probably thinks I could drink a little every now and again just to be sociable. My drinking is a thing of the past for her. On the other hand, my new involvement with the Fellowship is a nuisance and my intense new friendships and emerging ‘personality’ disconcerts and worries her. The subdued and secretive alcoholic self has gone and in its place is somebody unknown, more communicative but talking in a stranger’s voice.
It will take time. And we will have to go gently and keep the flow of communication open. The steep learning curve of sobriety is enough to give anyone vertigo.